Why We Joined the Institute for Liberal Values

Jessie Mannisto / September 22, 2021

We’re proud to team up with an organization that shares our values of free expression, critical thinking, civic engagement, and humility.

A lot’s been happening behind the scenes here at Third Factor lately. First, we’ve been forging ties with other Doers of Things. Then, as a complement to forging those ties, we’ve been making our own hierarchy of values clearer and more explicit. (Hey, that’s something a magazine grounded in Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration ought to do.)

In line with both of those, we’re proud to announce that Third Factor is now a member of the Institute for Liberal Values (ILV). As they explain on their website:

The Institute for Liberal Values advances liberalism, equality of opportunity and justice in America and around the world. We are a diverse coalition devoted to the free expression of ideas, critical thinking, and civic engagement.

We encourage you to read their longer mission statement and visit our fellow members. It’s a diverse group, so you’ll probably find someone there you love and someone there with whom you disagree.

And that, as it happens, is by design.

Free Speech Across the Political Spectrum

If you looked at the membership roll, you saw groups to the right, left, and center, from Free Black Thought, an organization promoting heterodox black thinkers (many of whom are conservative) to Plebity, a podcast with old-school socialist leanings. What makes ILV fit for its purpose is that its core values make a solid foundation for all of these groups, even when they otherwise see things differently.

“Free speech has become situated on the right side of the political spectrum. That’s really sad to me,” co-founder Jennifer Richmond told me. “That’s a false narrative.”

What Do We Mean By “Liberal” Values?

Of course, the word “liberal” is itself politically charged. In the United States, where ILV is based, it commonly refers to the political Left; in other parts of the world, it refers to the Right, something akin to what we Americans would call “libertarians.”

Neither of these are in line with ILV’s use of the term, and they have run into confusion because of it. “I’m a centrist; my husband’s a conservative,” Richmod told me. So when she told him about this new endeavor, his response was to exclaim with dismay, “Liberal values?!”

“I had to educate my husband. ‘Classical liberal values—both the Left and the Right have them,’” she told him. “It’s about discourse.” He conceded that he agreed with those values, but that he wouldn’t have put it that way.

The Importance of Clarifying Our Terms

His objection does highlight something important: when we use abstract terms like “liberal,” “socialist,” “conservative,” “heterodox,” “woke,” or “alt-right,” it’s not clear what we mean by them. “A lot of the hurdles are around the terms we use,” Richmond said. “We need to have that discourse about terms as part of ILV’s mission.”

The issue of clarifying terms pops up even outside of the most obviously political labels. For example, as part of an event they would host, ILV recently drafted a letter that its member organizations could choose to sign. They received pushback on several terms, including “Enlightenment values,” “military,” and even “brotherhood and sisterhood.” All of these came from people who were interested in signing but would have to opt out if those terms were used. That these words struck anyone as controversial took Richmond by surprise.

“Brotherhood and sisterhood were part of MLK’s original ‘I Have a Dream Speech,’ but several people from the LGBTQ movement felt more comfortable using the word ‘kinship,’ as it was gender neutral,” she explained. “Later, others commented that it didn’t have the same feel as MLK’s speech as it was lacking these words. It was an interesting discussion that made me realize how difficult it is to navigate language.” As she came to realize, what she took from these abstract terms wasn’t necessarily what other people took from them.

Discourse—and Humility—in Action

These were not the only concerns about the letter. Ultimately, some ILV member organizations opted not to sign it—and ILV fully supported their opting out. “Not only are [our members] autonomous, they have their own personalities,” Richmond said.

Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

In fact, the sort of member who would opt out of an action while still remaining a member is exactly who they’re looking for. “We want to strike that balance where organizations know that though they might not be on the same wavelength as ILV as a group, they still feel they have autonomy and space to come in good faith,” she explained.

The key to making this work is that each member enters the discussion with humility, curiosity, and a willingness to forgive the blunders and misunderstandings that all humans make. “People are so scared to get into these spaces of discourse because one thing might tick off this person, another that person,” Richmond told me. “Instead of saying ‘When you said that, here’s how I took it,’ and giving people an opportunity to respond, everything has been boiled down to snippets on Twitter where there is no humility, no forgiveness—just self-righteous claims that don’t give people that space. We want to widen that space, to bring in the voices that are woke and the voices that are conservative.”

Freedom of Discourse and the Intellectually Intense

Freedom of discourse is absolutely an important value at a social level. But for Third Factor readers, it’s important on a personal level, too. We write for readers with what Dabrowski called intellectual overexcitability, or if you prefer, the highly intellectually engaged. For our readers, the act of working out our ideas is practically a physiological imperative.

Others may not get that; we do.

Others may be put off by that; we won’t be.

If your mind spurts out something we think is wrong, factually or even morally, we would rather tell you why, so your intellect at least has that material to chew on. (We won’t get into how the excitable intellect clashes with excitable emotions; that is a worthy topic for another day.)

By joining ILV, we hope to connect our readers with more venues that offer a space for their excitable intellects. “We want as many opportunities as possible to put out articles, podcasts, and stories where we have these discussions,” Richmond said. “So we’re modeling the discourse we want to have, and allowing that space to disagree.”

We’re modeling the discourse we want to have, and allowing that space to disagree.

Jennifer Richmond

Doing the Thing

There’s one other thing that’s pretty high up in my personal hierarchy of values, and that is the importance of taking meaningful action.

“We are trying to reclaim that word [liberal], but that’s not our sole purpose. Our purpose is to be active and doing stuff, not just talking about stuff.”

We’re with them on that. At Third Factor, we hope our articles will inspire you to some meaningful action,whether in your personal sphere or the public sphere.

You do have to be willing to stand alone. But it’s a good thing, if you can do so authentically, to stand with others. We’re proud to stand with ILV as a member of their coalition in support of discourse and classical liberal values.

Standing for values means we’ll alienate those who don’t share them. One former Patreon supporter cancelled his membership after we joined ILV, saying in his exit survey that he was against these values. So if you do share them, we could use your support!

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